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|Subject: Brevet Colonel Anthony William Durnford, Royal Engineers, 1830-1879. Sun Oct 13, 2013 2:52 pm|| |
You can all blame Les for this as he wanted to see it in full.
Anthony William Durnford was born on 24th May, 1830, in Manor Hamilton, County Leitrim, Ireland. The eldest son of Second Lieutenant Edward William Durnford, Royal Engineers, and his wife Elizabeth Rebecca, nee Langley.
Initially, Anthony was schooled in Ireland. At the age of twelve he was sent to Germany to pursue his further education.
In September, 1846, at the age of sixteen he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, as a gentleman-cadet. In April, 1847, whilst Anthony was receiving his martial education, his father, who had achieved the rank of captain, was serving as the Executive Engineer in a maritime and land expedition, under the command of Admiral Inglefield and General D'Aguilar, up the Canton River in China. Edward Durnford's skilful assessment of the enemy's fortifications would lead to the capture of eight forts. The Chinese authorities sued for peace after the British force occupied the city of Canton on 25th June, 1847.
On completion of his studies, Anthony was commissioned into the Corps of the Royal Engineers with the rank of second lieutenant on 27th June, 1848. He then attended a course of further instruction at the Corps' Headquarters at Chatham, Kent.
His first posting was to Scotland, in December, 1849, where he served at Edinburgh Castle and Fort George. His next would be an overseas posting to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in October, 1851. The monotony of this far-flung outpost of the British Empire proved too much for the young officer, in an effort to relieve the boredom he took to gambling.
On 17th February, 1854, he was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant. That same year he married Frances Elizabeth Maria Tranchell, the youngest daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel George Adolphus Tranchell, formerly of the Ceylon Rifles, at Saint Stephen's Church, Trincomalee.
By 1855 in addition to his military duties Durnford would be appointed as Assistant Commissioner of Roads and Civil Engineer of Ceylon. Elsewhere in the world the British Army was engaged in less pacific duties - a bitter war was raging in the Crimea peninsular. British had allied itself with the French and Sardinian forces in support of the Turkish authorities, against Russian imperial expansion.
Durnford yearned to play his part in the campaign and applied for a transfer to the theatre of operations. Permission was not granted until November, 1855, however his departure was delayed by a bout of fever. Eventually he reached the island of Malta in March, 1856.
On the 31st of March, a peace treaty was concluded between the warring countries, by the end of April the war was officially over. There would be no chance of glory for Durnford, who had to content himself with the position of adjutant to his father, who commanded the Royal Engineers on Malta.
Whilst he serving in the Malta garrison, Frances Durnford gave birth to a son, sadly the child died in infancy. Durnford was devastated by the loss. In 1857, that loss was softened by the birth of a daughter, Frances.
Durnford returned to Britain in February, 1858. On the 18th of March, 1858, he was promoted to the rank of second captain. He served in Aldershot and at the Corps's Headquarters at Chatham. Whilst at Chatham he made the acquaintance of Captain Charles George Gordon, who had recently returned from serving on the Turco-Russian Boundary Commission, in the wake of the Crimean War. Gordon was destined for martyrdom at Khartoum in 1885.
In 1860, a second child - a daughter would die in infancy. Distraught with grief, Durnford and his wife decided to part company. In an effort to apparently lose himself in his work, Durnford accepted the command of 27th (Field) Company, Royal Engineers, which was stationed in Gibraltar.
On 5th January, 1864, he was promoted to the rank of first captain. In August of that year he returned again to Britain. By now Charles Gordon had achieved an international reputation at the head of his "Ever-Victorious Army" in China. Durnford was apparently intent on joining "Chinese" Gordon, and in the latter part of 1864 he sailed for the Orient. Wicked fate again intervened with Durnford's plans, he was taken ill with heat exhaustion and had to be disembarked at Ceylon. So severe was the complaint he remained hospitalised for three months. Durnford's biographer, his brother Edward, states that Gordon nursed Anthony back to health.
By January, 1865, he was considered fit enough to travel, and he was invalided back to Britain, where he spent the next five years on home postings. During this time that Durnford's father was promoted to the rank of Major-General, with effect from 6th March, 1868.
In 1871, Anthony Durnford was ordered to Cape Colony, he arrived at Cape Town on 23rd January, 1872, and from there he boarded another ship, Syria, for Port Elizabeth on the eastern seaboard of the colony. On disembarking he made for King William's Town.
Whilst serving in Cape Colony, Durnford became a keen observer of the African people who populated the area, paying particular attention to their habits and culture. On 5th July, 1872, he was promoted to the rank of major, following a revision of the ranking structure within the Corps of the Royal Engineers.
In January, 1873, he was ordered to return to Cape Town, and he was stationed at the Cape Castle. In May, 1873, he was posted to Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg. It was in Pietermaritzburg, that Durnford made the acquaintance of The Right Reverend John William Colenso, D.D., the Bishop of Natal. Colenso was an indefatigable, if somewhat controversial Christian. The Zulus knew of him, they called him Sobantu - the father of the people. Durnford and Colenso appear to form a firm friendship. But the gossips of day inferred that a closer relationship was formed between Durnford and the Bishop's daughter, Frances.
In August, 1873, Durnford accompanied Theophilus Shepstone, the Secretary for Native Affairs, into KwaZulu. He was present as the senior British officer at the "coronation" of the new Zulu monarch, King Cetshwayo kaMpande, on 1st September, 1873.
Scarcely had Durnford returned KwaZulu when he was ordered to report to Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Milles, of the 75th (Stirlingshire) Regiment of Foot, the senior officer at Fort Napier. A potentially dangerous situation was developing in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. A local chieftain, Langalibalele, of the amaHlubi, had refused to register a number of firearms, which his people had acquired whilst working in the Diamond Fields, to the local magistrate. The magistrate duly informed the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, Sir Benjamin Pine of the matter, and Pine issued a summons for Langalibalele to report to Pietermaritzburg. This too went unheeded. Pine was now left with a military option to bring to heel this recalcitrant upstart, who had dared to challenge him.
The forces placed at Milles's disposal were: two companies of the 75th; some one hundred and fifty European local volunteers and at least two thousand 'pressed' African levies. Durnford was appointed Chief of Staff. The whole force moved off to the vicinity of the amaHlubi reserve.
Milles, now with the rank of Colonel, planned to block the mountain passes with two mobile forces to prevent Langalibalele escaping into BaSotholand, thus turning the amaHlubi back towards Natal and into the main body of the troops. The concept of the plan was sound, however knowledge of the terrain on which it was to enacted was somewhat flawed.
One of the mobile forces consisted of five hundred of the African levies. Durnford was given command of the other. Durnford's unit was comprised of fifty-five Natal volunteers armed with breech-loading carbines, and twenty-five mounted Africans of baTlokwa people - of whom seventeen men carried a firearm of sorts, whilst the rest were armed with more traditional weapons. To enable Durnford to communicate with the African troops an interpreter was provided, his name was Elijah Kambule, a mission-educated African.
At last Durnford had a field command, but it was a command marred by incompetence from the outset. Durnford had ordered the senior volunteer officer, Captain Charles Barter, of the Natal Carbineers, to ensure each of the Natal volunteers carried rations for three days and forty rounds of ammunition. Barter however had taken it upon himself to have the rations and the ammunition placed on packhorses. During the night of 2nd/3rd November, 1873, the baggage animals strayed off. Durnford sent off a search party to recover the lost animals, which in turn became detached from the command.
In the morning the baTlokwa were forced to share their rations with the white troops. Durnford pressed on towards his objective of the Giant's Castle Pass. The rugged terrain began to exact its toll on the men, some of who fell out with exhaustion.
Durnford's horse, 'Chieftain', lost its footing sending Durnford tumbling from the saddle, and onto the rocks. Over and over he fell for some fifty yards, until he landed heavily against a tree limb. His injuries were severe - a dislocated shoulder, two cracked ribs and a badly gashed head. Although racked with pain he was determined to fulfil his mission, to prove his worth, and so he pressed onwards and upwards.
As the force halted that night Durnford despatched six of the baTlokwa, to go on ahead to scout for the whereabouts of the amaHlubi.
In the early hours of 4th November, Durnford roused his men, their numbers were now depleted to some thirty-odd volunteers and some fifteen of the baTlokwa, they pressed onto the Bushman's River Pass, where they discovered a large body of the fugitive amaHlubi tending their cattle, Durnford recounted what happened next shortly after the event: -
Having reached the Bushman's Pass at 6.30 a.m., on the 4th November, with one officer, one sergeant, and thirty-three rank and file of the Carbineers, and a few Basutos, I at once formed them across the mouth of the pass, the natives in charge of cattle already in the mountain flying in every direction. Possibly there may have been one hundred at the outside, about half of whom were armed with shooting weapons. Having posted my party, I went with my interpreter to reassure the natives. Calling for the chief man, I told him to assemble his people, and say that Government required their Chief, Langalibalele, to answer certain charges; that his people who submitted to Government should be safe, with their wives, children, and cattle; that all loyal people should go to Estcourt, where Mr. Shepstone, Minister for Native Affairs, was, and make submission, and they should be safe. My interpreter was recognised as one of Mr. Shepstone's attendants, and the Induna thanked me in the name of the people, saying they would all go down and tell my words to the tribe, who were not aware of the good intentions of Government and were afraid.
I told them to take their cattle and go down. The Chief said they would, but begged me to leave them, as he could not answer for the young men, who were excited, and might injure me. I left him exerting himself, so far as I could judge, in carrying out my wishes.
Seeing that the natives were getting behind stones commanding the mouth of the pass, I turned their position by sending my small party of Basutos on the one side, I taking half the Carbineers to the other - the other half guarding the mouth of the pass. All were then in such position, that had a shot been fired, I could have swept the natives down the pass. Their gestures were menacing, but no open act of hostility was committed.
About this time I was informed that many men were coming up the pass, and, on reaching the spot, found it was the case. On ordering them back, they obeyed sullenly. Matters now looked serious, and I was informed by the senior officer of volunteers present that the Carbineers, many of whom were young men, could not be depended upon. They said they were surrounded, and would be massacred. I have reason to believe that this panic was created by their drill instructor, an old soldier of the late Cape Corps, up to whom they naturally looked. Upon this, as the only chance of safety, and in hopes of saving men's lives, although perfectly aware that it was a fatal line of policy, I drew in my outlaying party, and gave the order to retire. There was nothing else to be done. I had no support. As I was about to retire by alternate divisions, the first shot was fired by the natives, followed by two or three, when, seized with panic, the Carbineers fled, followed by the Basutos.
My interpreter and three Volunteers were killed. There were probably two hundred natives present at the time the first shot was fired. The firing was never heavy, and their ammunition soon became exhausted. The orders I received were "not to fire the first shot." I obeyed.
Major Royal Engineers.
During the course of the skirmish a spear had pierced Durnford's already injured left arm at the elbow severing the nerve, and a bullet had grazed his cheek. His baptism of fire was hardly an auspicious event, although he had attempted, in vain, to save the life of Elijah Kambule, and had shot two amaHlubi, his command had quit the field in disarray.
Nearly a fortnight after the skirmish Durnford led a burial detail to the Bushman's River Pass. The bodies were recovered and buried, the committal service being conducted by the Reverend George Smith, the Vicar of Estcourt and Honorary Chaplain of the Weenen Yeomanry, who would find lasting fame for his part in the Defence of Rorke's Drift.
Meanwhile resentment was growing in Pietermaritzburg, Durnford had criticized the mettle of the Carbineers who had been present in the action. He acquired the sobriquet of "Don't Fire" Durnford, and with the hindsight of the events of 1879, the colonial press would refer to the skirmish at Bushman's River Pass as "Durnford's First Disaster".
Rough justice was meted out on Langalibalele's adherents, and also exacted on the amaPutini, the indigenous people of the area. Shepstone had falsely accused them of supporting an act of treason. Two hundred amaHlubi were killed, five hundred prisoners were taken and pressed in forced labour for the local European farmers.
Langalibalele was betrayed and captured by elements of a Cape Colony force. He was led back to Pietermaritzburg in chains. In January, 1874, he was charged with murder, treason and armed insurrection. The trial turned into a farce and a travesty of justice, the outcome was a forgone conclusion - he was guilty no matter what! John Colenso voiced his concerns but justice as well as being blind, had also become conveniently deaf. Langalibalele was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. A sentence which was commuted in 1887 to house-arrest.
In addition to his military duties Durnford had been given the post of Acting Colonial Engineer, with effect from 1st November, 1873. On 11th December, 1873 he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
The year 1874 would see the implementation of the Confederation Policy, by the Earl of Carnarvon, the Secretary of State of the Colonies. It was a policy of unification of the whole region of southern Africa, which was then composed of fragmented tribal kingdoms and chieftainships, two Boer Republics and the British territories, together under the Union Flag. It was a policy, which would be met with resistance, by both black and ultimately white people.
Durnford was in the meantime tasked with blocking the Drakensberg passes, in order to prohibit in order preventing a repetition of the amaHlubi incident, and any possible incursion from the BaSothos on the other side of the mountains. He had an available labour force in the amaPutini men who had unjustly been accused of conspiracy with the amaHlubi. Durnford bargained for the rights of these tribespeople, urging the Colonial Administration to repatriate to their dispossessed lands. Having successfully completed the task of blocking the mountain passes, the amaPutini set to road work, and the reputation of the work gang grow, so much so that Africans were actually volunteering to work for Durnford. Throughout 1874 they toiled.
Early in 1875 Sir Benjamin Pine was replaced by Major-General Sir Garnet Wolseley, that "Very model of a Modern Major-General", as he would later be personified by Gilbert and Sullivan.
Wolseley was in Natal to ring the changes and hasten the implementation of the confederation plans. His attitudes and bigotry would soon rankle Bishop Colenso; this in turn would have an effect on Durnford, because of his affinity with the bishop, and his alleged liaison with the bishop's daughter, Frances. Wolseley personally reprimanded him for siding with the liberal cleric. He added in a veiled threat unless Durnford conformed he would place his position of Acting Colonial Engineer in jeopardy.
Wolseley's machinations were coupled with a media inspired feeling of resentment still held against Durnford over the Bushman's River Pass affair. Neither did little to enhance his career or his prospects.
In September of 1875 Wolseley was replaced by Sir Henry Bulwer as Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, but the die was already cast for Durnford to be ousted. On 10th October, 1875 he was officially relieved of his civil appointment by Captain Albert Henry Hime, of the Royal Engineers. Durnford was acutely embarrassed at being relieved by a junior officer of his own corps, especially by one who had only been a captain for eighteen months.
In May 1876 he was replaced as Commanding Royal Engineer, Natal, by Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Thomas Brooke, another subordinate.
On 27th May he embarked for Britain, it was his intention to seek specialist opinion on his disabled arm. On advice he "took the waters" at a spa in the Black Forest, Germany, but he found the regime tedious, and hastened to return to army life.
His next posting was uninspiring he was tasked with maintaining the three forts, which commanded Queenstown harbour, Ireland. The cold and the frequent Atlantic storms did little to relieve his physical suffering, to, which was added mental torment, as he grow more and more morose. It all proved to be too much and he collapsed with exhaustion. On medical advice he left Ireland.
Apparently with the help of the intercession of his old friend, Charles Gordon, he was re-appointed as the C.R.E., Natal. He departed from Southampton on 8th February, 1877 on-board the Danube, the same ship which two years later, almost to the day, the Prince Imperial of France would embark on to meet his destiny in KwaZulu.
When Durnford arrived in Pietermaritzburg on 23rd March, 1877, he found the colony in a state of excitement; the now ennobled Sir Theophilus Shepstone had left Natal in late January for Pretoria, the capital of the Boer Republic of the Transvaal. Accompanying him was a small escort of twenty Natal Mounted Police. Shepstone was acting with the full authority of the recently appointed Governor General of the Cape, and High Commissioner for southern Africa, Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, who had been directed to advance the Confederation Policy.
The Republic was financially weakened and attempt to suppress the warlike ambitions of the baPedi chieftain, Sekhukhune, had ended in defeat for a Boer commando.
The day after Durnford's arrival in Pietermaritzburg, five companies of the 1st Battalion, 13th (1st Somersetshire) Prince Albert's Light Infantry arrived at the town of Newcastle, close to the Transvaal border, and twenty-five men of the Natal Mounted Police.
Durnford together with Colonel Charles Knight Pearson, of the 2nd Battalion, 3rd (East Kent - "The Buffs") Regiment of Foot, arrived in Newcastle, on 10th April. It was apparent to all those present that Shepstone intended to annex the Transvaal, under the manifesto of the Confederation Policy.
On the following day, fearful for Shepstone's safety, Durnford entered the Boer republic covertly, in the guise of a property speculator. Durnford arrived in Pretoria on 15th April, only to discover that Shepstone had claimed the Transvaal as a British colony on 12th April. Shepstone asked Durnford to have the troops move on Pretoria, for although there had been no show of resistance from the Boers, he was uncomfortable that something might happen. Durnford rode back towards Newcastle, and was met by Pearson who was moving the forces at his disposal on towards the border. Durnford marshalled the remaining forces and supplies at Newcastle, before returning back into the Transvaal.
Having assured himself all was going well Durnford returned to Pietermaritzburg on 26th April, 1877. With the annexation of the Transvaal the British inherited a dispute over a strip of border territory between the Transvaal and the independent Kingdom of KwaZulu. Late in 1877 Frere launched an unprecedented propaganda campaign against King Cetshwayo. He labelled the king 'a despot', and his army were branded as 'man-slaying gladiators', Frere was attempting to draw the amaZulu into a war, but it was not the time as the British forces were already embroiled in the Ninth Cape Frontier War, against the amaXhosa in the Transkei.
In February, 1878, a boundary commission was formed to unravel the complexities of the claims and counter-claims of the Transvaal/Zulu dispute. Durnford was selected to serve as a member of the commission, together with John Wesley Shepstone, the acting Secretary for Native Affairs and the Natal Attorney-General Michael Gallwey, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin.
The first meeting to consider evidence from the respective parties was convened to take place on the Natal side of the Buffalo River, at a former trading post, known to the Zulus as kwaJimu, close to a river crossing called Rorke's Drift in early March of 1878. The commission heard the evidence from the respective claimants - Zulu and Boer.
The meeting at Rorke's Drift coincided with another event, the arrival in southern Africa of the newly appointed General Officer Commanding Her Majesty's Forces in southern Africa. Lieutenant-General (Local Rank) the Honourable Frederic Augustus Thesiger, replaced Lieutenant-General Arthur Cunynghame, who had been replaced as a consequence of political pressure.
For weeks the three commissioners heard and reviewed evidence from both parties, the submissions were finally concluded on 11th April, 1878. Despite differences of opinion between the members of the commission, they completed their report on 20th June, 1878. They found in favour of the Zulu claim of title to the land. Their conclusion was sent via Bulwer to Frere for approval. Frere conveniently shuffled the papers to the bottom of the pile; the findings did not quite gel with his own intentions towards the amaZulu.
There had been a change in Whitehall; Sir Michael Hicks Beach had replaced Lord Carnarvon as Colonial Secretary. Despite the change, or maybe because of it, Frere stepped-up his propaganda campaign against the Zulu.
In July, 1878, an event occurred that added credence to Frere's crusade. One of the wives of the border chieftain, Sihayo kaXongo, who lived on the Zulu side of the Buffalo River at Rorke's Drift, became pregnant by a lover. The unfaithful woman and her lover fled into Natal. Shortly afterwards another unfaithful wife, also expectant, followed. The first wife took up residence in the umuzi of a border guard, Mswaglele. The subsequent incursion into Natal by Methlokazulu kaSihayo and his followers, and the killing of the two women gave Frere the excuse he was looking for. The Natal Government sought reparation for the raid, and the surrender of the ringleaders. Sihayo offered to pay a fine of cattle, which his own monarch, King Cetshwayo, had levied on him, but this was dismissed as too lenient a penalty.
Durnford was tasked with completing a feasibility study of bridging the Tugela River, should the prospect conflict with the amaZulu become a reality.
Durnford also recommended the formation of an African pioneer corps. Bulwer however had other opinions, and began to frustrate the designs of Durnford and the General Officer Commanding. Bulwer had been instilled with a sense of distrust of armed, organized bodies of Africans by colonists who still harboured a sense of hatred after the Langalibalele affair. Thesiger had no option but to complain to Frere over Bulwer's lack of co-operation. The raising of two companies of Natal Native Pioneers was eventually permitted with the full knowledge of the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, the Duke of Cambridge.
By October, 1878, Bulwer was still reticent to permit the general conscription of the African populace. Frere was aware that Thesiger, (who that same month become the 2nd Baron, Lord Chelmsford) desperately needed the additional manpower. These men were to be deployed as light skirmishers and scouts, as proposed by Durnford. Their local knowledge would be an asset or so it was thought.
Eventually after much debate and argument Bulwer permitted the raising of three regiments of a force which would be designated the Natal Native Contingent. Durnford was assigned to the overall command of the three battalions, which would compose the 1st Regiment.
It is not the purpose of this piece to assess the worth of the N.N.C., merely the role of Durnford in their organisation. I believe it was the man's charisma, which caused many to flock to follow him. Hundreds of amaPutini came, as did the baTlokwa, even Langalibalele's amaHlubi came. Drawn to this man who unlike many did not appear to resent the colour of their skin.
A booklet was published for those Europeans who would be entrusted with the command of the N.N.C. and published as GENERAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE MANAGEMENT OF NATIVES, FOR THE GUIDANCE OF OFFICERS APPOINTED TO THE NATAL NATIVE CONTINGENT, AND OTHERS WHO MAY HAVE NATIVES PLACED UNDER THEM.
Some of these instructions are worthy of note:-
1, The Natal Zulu may be looked upon as an intelligent, precocious boy, with the physical strength of a man. ...
4, Insist on unquestioning obedience, and be careful that your order is carried out. Avoid, however, unreasonable, contradictory and when possible, unnecessary harassing orders....
6, Never use epithets of contempt such as niggers, Kafirs, &c. Call them "abantu"(people), "amadoda" (men), or "amabuti" (soldiers). ...
10, When drilling Zulus avoid all nagging - many of them are often stupid and inattentive, and much practise is required to teach them. ...
17, Esprit de corps is well understood by Zulus, and every use should be made of it. Each battalion should be given a native name, which, no doubt, the men themselves will soon select. ...
Sadly some of those tasked with the position of command were hardly worthy of such office. Some were drawn from the lower echelons of colonial manhood, and were no respecters of human life, black or white.
In addition to the N.N.C. and the Native Pioneers, mounted well-armed African volunteers were formed into troops of the Natal Native Mounted Contingent. Numbered amongst these men, were those who had been present at the Bushman's River Pass, and their descendants. Langalibalele's own brother, John Zulu, rode at the head of the troop from the Edendale Mission Station. Such was the personal loyalty and affection to Durnford.
On 11th December, 1878, under the branches of a wild fig tree on the Natal side of the Lower Tugela River, an indaba had been called, King Cetshwayo sent his own emissaries to finally receive the findings of the boundary commission. The Zulus listened attentively as the result in their favour was announced. After this followed Frere's haughty ultimatum which was filled with great rhetoric which could only lead to war.
Durnford did his utmost to shape his regiment into a cohesive fighting force in the short time he had left. His force started to assemble at Greytown. Dalmaine's Farm, a short distance from Greytown was selected as his headquarters. From this position Durnford's force, now designated as Number 2 Column, could command the Middle Drift of the Tugela.
On 1st January, 1879, Durnford received orders from Lord Chelmsford ordering him to remain at the Middle Drift until the invasion, scheduled for the 11th January, was under way. When Durnford would be expected to co-operate between Pearson's Number 1 Column, which was to cross at the Lower Drift, and Colonel Richard Thomas Glyn's Number 3 Column, which was to ford the Buffalo River at Rorke's Drift.
On the afternoon of 11th January, Durnford paid a visit on Lord Chelmsford, who had now attached his headquarters to Glyn's force. He acquainted the General with some intelligence gleaned from messengers loyal to the Lutheran Bishop Hans Paludan Smith Schreuder, before returning to his designated position.
At this time rumours and counter-rumours as to the Zulu dispositions were rife. Schreuder wrote to Durnford warning him of a threat of a Zulu incursion over the Middle Drift. Durnford received the message on 13th January. He hastily wrote a dispatch to Chelmsford apprising him of the supposed threat, and that he intended to meet the enemy on the Zulu side of the Middle Drift.
At 2 a.m. on 14th January, Durnford roused his men, and readied them for a forced march at 4 a.m. As Durnford was on the summit of Kranz Kop preparing to descend into the valley leading towards the drift a galloper from Lord Chelmsford met him.
The dispatch from Chelmsford was forthright and to the point:
Unless you carry out the instructions I give you, it will be my unpleasant duty to remove you from your command, and to substitute another officer for officer for the commander of No. 2 Column. When a column is acting SEPARATELY in an enemy's country I am quite ready to give its commander every latitude, and would certainly expect him to disobey any orders he might receive from me, if information which he obtained showed that it would be injurious to the interests of the column under his command. Your neglecting to obey my instructions in the present instance has no excuse. You have simply received information in a letter from Bishop Schroeder[sic], which may or may not be true and which you have no means of verifying. If movements ordered are to be delayed because report hints at a chance of an invasion of Natal, it will be impossible for me to carry out my plan of campaign. I trust you will understand this plain speaking and not give me any further occasion to write in a style which is distasteful to me.
The following day Durnford was ordered to the vicinity of Rorke's Drift, with a few companies of his N.N.C., five troops of the N.N.M.C., and a rocket battery under the command of Brevet Major Francis Broadfoot Russell, Royal Artillery.
On 19th, Durnford received further orders to relocate the force under his immediate command to the Zulu bank of Rorke's Drift. On the 20th Number 3 Column reached Isandlwana.
On 21st, Lord Chelmsford sent out a two-pronged reconnaissance to ascertain the whereabouts of any Zulu forces. Elements of the reconnaissance came into contact with Zulu forces late in the afternoon. Messages were passed back to Chelmsford at Isandlwana requesting reinforcements.
In the early hours of the morning of Wednesday, 22nd January, 1879, Chelmsford made the decision to divide Number 3 Column, leaving one half at Isandlwana, whilst marching out with the other to meet the Zulu threat.
At 3 a.m., Lieutenant Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien, of the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot, a special service officer detailed to transport duties, was ordered to return to Rorke's Drift. He carried orders for Durnford, ordering him to the camp at Isandlwana with the forces at his disposal.
Durnford received the orders at about 7 a.m. Durnford moved on towards Isandlwana with his mounted troops, having given orders for his infantrymen to follow on.
About a quarter of a mile from the camp at Isandlwana, he encountered a fellow Engineer officer moving in the opposite direction, his name was John Rouse Merriott Chard, a lieutenant from 5th (Field) Company. Chard informed Durnford that Zulus had been seen on the hills to the north of the camp. Durnford instructed Chard to inform the two N.N.C. companies to hurry on to Isandlwana.
Shortly after 10 a.m. Durnford arrived in the camp. He had with him some two hundred and fifty N.N.M.C., 'D' Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Regiment, N.N.C. followed on behind escorting Russell's rocket battery. Bringing up the rear was Captain Walter Stafford and his 'E' Company, 1st Battalion 1st N.N.C. acting as the baggage guard.
An obvious problem was presented with Durnford's arrival, who was in command? Durnford was a substantive Lieutenant-Colonel; it is feasible that he may not have been informed of his brevet promotion to the rank of colonel on 11th December, 1878. Lord Chelmsford had left behind in command of the encampment Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Pulleine of the 1st Battalion, 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot. Pulleine had distinct orders to defend the camp.
Reports were coming in from outlaying piquets and vedettes of increasing Zulu activity. One report stated that a Zulu column was moving off in the direction that Lord Chelmsford had taken his half column. Fearful that the General's force might be attacked on two fronts Durnford took matters into his own hands. He informed Pulleine that he intended to sweep the area thus drawing out the Zulus. He asked Pulleine for some of his imperial infantry to assist him in the task. Pulleine objected to the request, again stating his task was to defend the camp. Durnford then asked for support should his force encounter difficulties to which acquiesced.
Durnford sent two troops of his N.N.M.C. off on to the Nquthu plateau, under the command of Captain William Barton, an Irish soldier-of-fortune. Whilst he himself went out with two troops of N.N.M.C. along the track the General's half column had taken. Following in the wake of the horsemen came Major Russell and his rocket battery, supported by 'D' Company, 1st/1st N.N.C. under Captain C. Nourse. Durnford had had the foresight to order Lieutenant Richard Wyatt Vause and his No. 3 Troop of Zikhali's Horse to reinforce the baggage guard.
It is not the purpose of this piece to discuss the finer points of Isandlwana, and so what follows is only a synopsis of events.
It is usually contended that Lieutenant Charles Raw commanding No.1 Troop, Zikhali's Horse, chanced upon the concealed Zulu impi of some 25,000 warriors in Ngwebeni valley, thereby pre-empting the attack of the Zulus planned for the following day. Battle had commenced.
Durnford waged a fighting retreat in an effort to turn the Zulu left horn. He and his men took up a position in a donga on the right front of Isandlwana. Here he was seen exalting his men, and standing on the lip of the donga in total disregard for his personal safety. Lieutenant Alfred Henderson of Hlubi's Troop, N.N.M.C.., was drawn to the conclusion that he had lost his head. Others would recall how Durnford would deftly free the fouled breeches of his men's carbines, with his one good hand.
Durnford's men were reinforced by detachments of the Natal Mounted Police, the Newcastle Mounted Rifles, the Buffalo Border Guard and the Natal Carbineers. At this moment in time, members of the corps who in the past had included Durnford's bitterest critics were at his side.
Desperately short of ammunition Durnford and his mounted men were compelled to abandon their position, just as Lieutenant Charles Pope, commanding 'G' Company, 2nd/24th, was moving up in what may have been an attempt to reinforce him. The left horn crashed into the lines of red soldiers and they were soon swallowed up.
Durnford rallied his mounted men in one last desperate stand, but the sheer weight of Zulu numbers told and he died surrounded by the Zulu.
Initially his body was interred on the battlefield. However, on 12th October 1879, at the behest of the Colenso family his body was re-buried with full military honours at the military cemetery at Fort Napier.
In death he is as much an enigma, as in life he was a conundrum. Like his close friend Charles Gordon, he received a martyr's death, facing enemies with whom he had a marked affinity. Many have spoken since Isandlwana both in praise and to the detriment of Durnford. I will not sit in judgement of Anthony William Durnford. However close to where he died is the memorial to the Natal Carbineers who perished that day, and if I may misquote it - neither praise nor blame add to his epitaph.
©John Young 2013, with minor revisions and amendments to previously published text.
Last edited by John Young on Sun Oct 13, 2013 4:15 pm; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : Two minor spelling edits JY.)